A Kind of Family Gathering – Bitter Herbs and Their Relatives in the Diaspora Garden

Yellow plate with foods made of clay and the inscriptions: “Pessah” in the center and all around the edge “Chazeret”, “Beitzah”, “Zeroa”, “Maror”, “Charoset”, and “Karpas”

Shlomit Tulgan made this Seder plate from clay for our children’s exhibition on Passover; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe.

It’s Seder and the family is getting together. Some are traveling from farther away, others are flourishing right here. At the table are escarole, lettuce, parsley, kohlrabi, Belgian endive, and dandelion. But what about horseradish and red radish? They’re both late this year.

The story of the plants and their fruits that have particular meaning on the Seder plate at Passover could be told in various similar ways. They all grow in the Diaspora Garden, which you can visit inside the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy at the Jewish Museum.  continue reading


“Faith isn’t something you can see from the outside.”

A Visit with Sister Katharina at Karmel Berlin

Transparent bust wearing a black veil.

Sister Katharina donated this veil to us for our exhibition; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Katharina Erbe.

Covering one’s head has almost entirely disappeared from Christian women’s devotional practice. In Germany, you only actually see veils on the sisters of Catholic religious orders. In preparing for the exhibition Cherchez la femme (more about it on our website) we all agreed early on that we wanted a nun’s veil.

So I set out for Karmel Regina Martyrum in the northern part of Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, a convent of Discalced (or Barefoot) Carmelites. The convent’s wardrobe mistress, Sister Katharina, greeted me at the door. After some discussion, her view on the matter emerged as fairly sober: some people may ascribe specific spiritual meaning to certain items of clothing but it was very personal issue. In any one community you can meet with a wide variety of attitudes and practices.

Our conversation about the meaning of their religious dress began with Sister Katharina sharing an anecdote:  continue reading


“Searching for the familiar in an alien setting”

Workshops for young refugees

Two boys writing their names on T-shirts

Whether in Hebrew, Arabic, or German, there are lots of ways to write one’s name; photo: private

What’s written in a Jewish marriage contract? As a minority, how do you secure your civil rights? And why is Hanukkah celebrated for eight days? My work as a guide at the Jewish Museum isabout how to coax stories from objects on display — but also about language. The first thing I did when I began working here about four years ago was to look up how to say “ruminants with cloven hooves” in French. You need to have this phrase at the ready if you want to explain Jewish dietary laws to a group of French museum visitors. My French didn’t help much, however, when I led the first workshops in August of 2016 for Welcome Classes.  continue reading